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Wednesday, 10 April 1946

Mr WHITE (Balaclava) .- Unlike any other dependants of servicemen, the . dependent parents of deceased servicemen are subject to a means test. I do not blame the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Frost) or the Government at the moment, because this is hereditas damnosa from previous administrations. During the economic depression, pensions were whittled down by the Scullin Government. Some years ago, I proposed, unsuccessfully, that a select committee should be appointed to examine and recommend .improvements of the Australian Soldiers' Repatriation Act. When f. was abroad in 1942, a .parliamentary committee was appointed for that purpose, and amending legislation based on its recommendations was subsequently introduced. Whenever I raise these matters now, I am inf ormed that the Parliament had considered the recommendations of the committee; but I contend that this particular anomaly was not properly considered at that time.

Mr Frost - It was.

Mr WHITE - I shall relate some facts which will interest the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Frost). Last week, I placed on the notice-paper a series of questions relating to the rate of war pension for approved dependants, parents of ' deceased servicemen, and the means test, and made certain comparisons. There are some sad cases. In one family, the two single sons were killed. Their allotments had supported the home. The mother and father received a letter from the Repatriation Department inviting them to apply for a pension as bereaved parents, and they believed that the granting of the pension was almost automatic. When they applied, a policeman came to. the home, and they were asked to go to the police station, fill in a humiliating form, and answer numbers of personal questions. Because it was found that their weekly income in each case was more than £1 19s., the parents were disqualified from receiving a pension. Subject to a means test, an old-age pensioner, at the age of 65 years, automatically receives the pension, and a similar test is applied to bereaved, parents who have lost those very dear to them. The public does not know of the operation of the means test. I could mention other sad cases, but I am sure that the Minister has received many .letters on this subject. I also asked -

How many applications were rejected for such casualties during the 1939-45 war?

I was surprised to learn that the number was 1,130. I also asked the Minister -

What is the qualification and amount of pension for a de facto wife?

I asked this question, not with the object of criticizing the amount, but for the purpose of indicating the favorable treatment of a de facto wife compared with such parents as I have mentioned. The Minister's reply was -

The term " de facto wife " does not appear in the Australian Soldiers' Repatriation Act. 1 030-1 945. It is deemed, however, that the honorable member's question is intended to relate to certain female dependants referred to in section 42 of the act.

The point is that a de facto wife automatically receives a pension of £2 10s. a week, without a means test.

Mr Frost - So does a wife.

Mr WHITE - That is so. Why should not a parent who was dependent upon a deceased soldier son be treated as liberally without a means test?

Mr Pollard - The government of which the honorable member was a Minister introduced the provision in relation to de wives.

Mr WHITE - I am not arguing that' point, and I am not blaming this Government for the deficiency to which I am referring. The benefits provided under the Australian Soldiers'- Repatriation Act were reduced during the depression years. They are being gradually restored. Some time ago I gave notice of my intention to move for the appointment of a select committee to discuss repatriation matters generally. I was supported by the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Pollard), but I was overseas at the time the subject was dealt with. I am sure that if I had been here, with the help of the honorable member for Ballarat in this matter; it would have been adjusted. An organization has . been formed by the people to whom I am referring, but it is not very vocal. I am glad that the Minister foi1 Repatriation (Mr. Frost) is present, and I hope that he will give consideration to my submission. It is regrettable that these parents who have been thrifty and possess property of a value of even £400 are disqualified for a pension. I urge that the means test in this connexion be abolished. The Australian Soldiers' Repatriation Act was intended to deal justly with all sections of the community, and I trust that the anomaly to which I have referred will be rectified. If the Minister for Repatriation would submit the matter to Cabinet at the first opportunity, I am sure that good results would follow.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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